Australia is a global leader in exporting death and participating in predatory wars. And its ranking among warmongering states is only climbing. This was made clear in the Turnbull government’s 2016 Defence White Paper, which outlined “the largest [military] procurement program in Australia’s history”. 

We’re talking about an extra $200 billion over 10 years, according to the Coalition. 

It was also made clear by the recent decision to establish a $3.8 billion Defence Export Facility to fund weapons manufacturers and turn Australia into one of the world’s top 10 arms exporters. But don’t worry: these weapons will be exported only into “safe hands”, like those of Saudi Arabia, Israel and Trump’s USA. 

In contrast to this expenditure on instruments of war and torture, workers are facing a Liberal government intent on cutting and privatising social services and welfare.

Late last year, the Turnbull government quietly announced a cap on commonwealth-funded university places, amounting to a $2.2 billion cut to higher education. 

Getting a bachelor’s degree in Australia shackles students with years of debt. Class sizes keep expanding; content is being moved online; and two-thirds of students live below the poverty line. 

One student, 19-year-old Molly Willmott, a politics and sociology major at the University of Melbourne, related to the ABC’s Jane Cowan last year:

“Centrelink has an optional $1,300 loan to buy textbooks every semester. I’ve used that to buy clothes so I can be warm through winter and give a rest to my mum. There’ve been times I haven’t been able to buy textbooks and readers.

“I’ve got so much anger about the treatment of students by the government at the moment. The welfare system is incredibly underfunded and understaffed. When I got my youth allowance, I needed to get it urgently. I needed to start uni and buy textbooks, and it took four months for that to go through. There have been people who’ve been on the phone for four hours trying to connect with Centrelink.”

For people forced out of housing and with limited access to welfare, the joke of living off Mi Goreng two-minute noodles has become reality. 

Yet a Greens bill to increase payments by $110 a fortnight, which would cost less than $3 billion per year, was defeated in the Senate last August.

The situation for students is getting worse. ASG, the largest provider of education scholarship plans in Australia, has released estimates for the rising costs associated with obtaining a degree. In a 6 April press release, the organisation noted:

“The total cost of Australia’s most popular degrees for students who live at home while at university will increase by 23 percent in the next decade.

“Students who live with their family while at university can expect to pay $190,139 by 2028 for a medical degree, $36,228 more than today’s students ($153,851) … 54 percent of the total cost of a medical degree in 2028 will be spent on living costs ($103,499).”

While governments cry poor when it comes to public services, there are always billions at hand for building the Australian empire. 
Student activists have long argued that there is plenty of money in the system to ensure basic living standards, including a return to fully funded higher education. 

It’s not only the tremendous money being handed to the Department of Defence at the expense of education funding. 

On many university campuses, war is closer than you might imagine. At Queensland University of Technology, the Defence Department is setting up a new cooperative research centre for “trusted autonomous systems”. 

At the University of Sydney, the administration has invested $3.35 million in Honeywell, the company that manufactured cluster bombs during the Vietnam War. 

At Melbourne University, warplane and missile manufacturer Lockheed Martin has opened a research laboratory.

Almost every campus in the country has similar stories – a product of the corporatisation of universities, the increasing militarisation of the world and the profitability of war. 

We have to fight against these trends – increasing impoverishment of students, deteriorating teaching conditions and course cuts and rising education costs, while tens of billions of dollars are being funnelled into the war machine.

We need books, not bombs. 

Socialist Alternative has played a key role in organising a National Day of Protest in every state, and we will continue to organise throughout the year. Books not Bombs is a simple demand – we want a world run to benefit humanity, a world without predatory wars and the suffering associated with them. 

To get involved, contact your local Socialist Alternative university club.

[Lily Campbell is Sydney University SRC education officer.]